10 New Rules of Healthy Eating
Forget dieting. The problem with dieting is that it has to end. Instead, look at your nutrition plan as an eating blueprint for life. Striking a balance between healthy eating, exercise, and the foods you love will allow you to live and perform great.
Below, we’ve laid out 10 essential nutrition habits and more than 20 tips for adopting them. But don’t try them all at once. That’d be like trying to scarf down an entire buffet in one sitting—you’ll inevitably fail or wind up ill. Simply focus on making one or two changes to the way you eat every week.
Track any changes in how you look, feel, and perform so you have a quantifiable record of the difference made by improving your nutrition. In a few months, you’ll have overhauled your eating habits. Best of all, it won’t feel like you had to completely change your life just to improve it.
1. Map Out Your Meals for the Week
Spend 90 minutes every Sunday planning, shopping, and preparing meals for a week. This proactive approach will help you take control of your nutrition so you’re not wondering what to eat when you come home from work every night since it’ll already be planned. Here’s how to do it:
First, map out each meal and stock your cabinets at home and at work with everything you need to ensure you don't make a rash, impulsive decision when you're hungry.
Write down everything you need to buy at the grocery store and eat before you shop. The grocery store can be a daunting place when you don't have a plan. The aisles are filled with processed, high sugar, and high fat options that don't have a place in your nutritious eating plan. But if you go there with a specific list, then you’ll be more likely to get exactly what you need (and nothing more). You wouldn't go on a road trip without directions, so don't go to the grocery store without a plan.
Grill plenty of chicken, fish, and lean red meat on Sunday, and put it in one-serving plastic containers that have separate compartments. Place some salad and vegetables in the other compartments, and you're set for lunch. When you come home, the most you'll have to do to whip up dinner is steam some vegetables. Cut your fruits and veggies into bite-sized portions. You'll be more likely to eat them if they're pre-prepared this way.
2. Choose the Least-Processed Food
Eating the least processed forms of food will help control your blood sugar, stabilize energy, and fill you up with fiber. Use these shopping tips to eat more real food:
When shopping for bread, look for something with at least 3 grams of fiber. Also, make sure to avoid anything with the word enriched. Opt for pumpernickel, rye, sourdough, or 100 percent whole wheat. With wheat bread, look for "stone-ground" or "crushed wheat" on the label. Avoid white, buttermilk, or split-top wheat breads—they have too much enriched flour, which has been heavily processed.
When choosing fruits and vegetables at the market, fresh or fresh-frozen is the best way to go. Avoid pre-made dried fruits and trail mixes, which are calorie dense and heavy in sugar. If you a trail mix, make your own. Go for carbs that are in their natural form and that are packed with fiber. These energy sources are digested slower and are often times higher in nutrients.
3. Stop Fearing Fat
Fat doesn’t make you fat. In fact, fats are critical for good health. They release energy slowly to keep your body satiated and they help regulate blood sugar. They also give you powerful nutrients and antioxidants for cellular repair of joints, organs, skin and hair. Reintroduce the fats below and avoid trans fat. Just don’t be fooled by nutrition labels. "No trans fat" doesn't mean there is zero trans fat in that food you're eating. Always take a take a closer look at the nutrition facts to see if there is added fat or sugar.
Oils: The best fats are those that are unsaturated, which take a liquid form at room temperature. These include olive oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil, and fish oils. Everyone should have a bottle of flaxseed oil and/or fish oil pills in your refrigerator. Your body can convert flaxseed oil into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, much like fish oil. A tablespoon or two of either a day, one in the morning and one in the evening, is all you need, and it can go into a shake or on top of oatmeal.
Nuts: Nuts are high in heart-healthy fats and also provide protein and fiber. A quarter-cup serving of nuts and a glass of fat-free milk is a great snack. Nuts also make a nutritious topping for salads and main courses. Almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts, and macadamias have the most nutritional value.
4. Eat For Energy
When you eat more often—five to six times per day—you’re far less likely to overeat and more likely to stay energized. Psychologically, you know the next meal is coming soon, and physiologically, your body's blood sugar levels are regulated, avoiding huge swings in hunger and mood and improving your concentration. What’s more, frequent eating is like throwing wood on the fire. Digesting food cranks up your metabolism and burns more calories every time you eat. By not eating often, the fire smolders and dies. Use these tips to eat more often.
- Snack at work. Bring snacks to work and eat every three hours on average.
- Get a "lunch portion."Ask for a “lunch portion” when you dine out. Many restaurants will serve you a smaller portion of the meal you order for a reduced price. This is a great way to control your portion sizes and save money.
- Eat carbs. Fuel up with carbohydrates, but keep the amount of carbs you eat proportional to your activity level. The more you’re active, the more carbs you can consume. Since most people tend to be more active in the morning and afternoon, eat the majority of your carbs earlier in the day to stay energized and avoid storing fat.
- Choose the least processed foods. To keep your energy levels stable, choose foods that are minimally processed and include lean protein with each meal.
- Add macronutrients to your meals. Include three macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat and protein) in every meal spaced three hours apart.
5. Never Skip Breakfast
Eat breakfast every day. Otherwise, your body will tap into your lean-muscle stores for energy. Breakfast also increases metabolism and fuels the brain. So start your day off right and continue to eat mini-meals every 2.5 to 3 hours thereafter.
A cup of coffee is not breakfast. Substituting caffeine for real food just gives you artificial energy, which does nothing to stop the eating away of your lean-muscle stores. A healthy breakfast should include protein and carbohydrates, as well as good fats and fiber. Try to eat your fruit instead of drinking a juice that has been fortified with sugar.
6. Go Easy on the Caffeine
Caffeine stimulates the brain so that you have energy, but it also signals to the brain that the body is not hungry when it may be under-fueled. Drink plenty of water and consider green or black teas instead of coffee. (They have less caffeine than coffee.) But both teas and coffee have antioxidant properties that may help prevent disease. Avoid drinking coffee throughout the day. Drinking a cup or two is fine, 1-2 cups an hour is not.
7. Get at Least 3 Grams of Fiber with Each Meal
Fiber improves your body's digestive function, regulates blood sugar levels, and promotes long-term cardiovascular health. High-fiber foods include oatmeal, beans, lentils, and green, leafy vegetables. When choosing grains and carbohydrate-rich snacks, make sure that there is 3 grams of fiber per serving. Otherwise, try to find something else.
Every meal you eat should include colorful fruits and vegetables because of their fiber and nutrient densities. Add veggies like red and green peppers, carrots, and green beans to any meal. The more color in your salad, the better. Salads with leafy spinach and romaine lettuce tend to be more nutritious than those made predominantly with iceberg lettuce.
8. Eat Before You Sleep
You may think you're doing your gut a favor by not eating before bedtime, but you could be sabotaging your muscle. Use these tips to fuel up before bed:
- Shrink your non-eating window at night to 8-10 hours. Otherwise, your body will get through its extended fast by tapping into your lean muscle for nourishment.
- Have a bedtime snack that’s high in protein, such as cottage cheese and berries.
- Be sure to consume something when you wake up in the morning, even just a shake. Your body is stressed out and starving in the morning. Feed it.
9. Balance Your Carbs, Protein and Fat
For lunch and dinner, try to get a combination of protein and carbs, preferably with plenty of fiber in both. The different foods will balance each other to produce maximum energy, build lean mass, and regulate your blood sugar levels. When you look at your plate, you should see a lean protein source, some brightly colored carbs that are rich in fiber, and some good fat, either from olive oil, nuts, avocado, or fatty fish.
10. Forget Everything You Know About Nutrition
No one has a "perfect diet,” so don't put that pressure on yourself, but don’t just say you’ll eat your favorite foods in moderation or you’ll likely fall off track. Aim to eat the right foods and planned meals 80 percent of the time. During the other 20 percent of the time, eat for all of the other reasons we eat, like a family get-together or a celebratory meal with friends. We call this the “80/20 rule.” Know that you have these cheat meals built into your week and you can feel better about all the healthy foods you’re eating the rest of the time. If you start to slide into a 20/80 rule, then it's time to reevaluate your nutrition habits.
About The Author
Amanda Carlson-Phillips – Amanda Carlson-Phillips is the Vice President of Nutrition and Research of Athletes' Performance. As a registered dietitian, she has provided educational seminars and individual counseling to a variety of professional and elite sports organizations.